All five of the inmates who were hospitalized for injuries suffered during a large-scale riot that broke out Friday morning in a yard at Sierra Conservation Center near Jamestown have since returned to the prison as correctional officers continue to investigate the cause of the brawl.
About 200 inmates were involved in the melee that began about 10:15 a.m Friday morning. Four of the five who suffered injuries were taken to area hospitals and sent back to the prison the same day, while one wasn’t cleared to return until Saturday.
“We’re in the process now of trying to figure out who all was involved,” said Lt. Robert Kelsey, spokesman at the prison. “We have to review video on the yards, and we’ll start piecing all of that together like a puzzle.”
Injuries to the inmates who were hospitalized included cuts, scratches and puncture wounds, and one suffered a broken nose.
Two of the inmates were taken to the hospital by air ambulance, two went by ground ambulance, and one was driven in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation vehicle by staff at the prison.
Kelsey declined to release the names of the inmates or their specific injuries, citing medical privacy laws.
The riot was quelled after about seven to eight minutes by correctional officers who used OC (oleoresin capsicum) grenades, similar to a pepper-spray grenade, fired seven non-lethal 40 millimeter direct impact rounds, and one warning shot from a mini-14 rifle by a guard in a tower.
“It wasn’t extremely long,” Kelsey said of the riot. “Although if you fight seven or eight minutes, it seems like a long time.”
None of the prison staff who assisted with the riot were injured.
The riot occurred in Facility A, a level I yard that’s one of the lower security areas at the prison.
All inmates involved were systematically restrained and returned to their cells or taken for medical treatment after the fighting ended.
Kelsey said the facility was on lockdown over the weekend, which meant no visitation, yard time, phone calls, trips to the canteen or packages, among other restrictions.
The facility is now on a modified program, meaning the inmates’ movement is somewhat restricted and all educational, vocational or rehabilitative programs are temporarily cancelled until the investigation is complete.
“We don’t want another one of these if tempers are still high,” Kelsey said. “Our ultimate goal will be to return to a normal program as soon as possible and as safe as possible.”
Kelsey said it was the fourth riot at the prison in the past year, which he called “probably about average.”
There was a riot in August that involved more than 300 inmates in the Facility B level II yard at the prison. Five were hospitalized for injuries in that event, though none were life threatening.
“They’re usually pretty spontaneous — bumps, bruises, cuts, and stitches, stuff like that,” Kelsey said. “Even though they’re large, we usually don’t have the violence that’s associated with them (prison riots).”
One of the reasons some of the riots at the prison involve so many inmates is in part because of the large yards with lots of inmates out at the same time, Kelsey said.
About 1,500 inmates are housed at the prison, including about 800 in Facility B alone.
One staff member suffered a minor injury by twisting an ankle during one of the recent riots, according to Kelsey, but none have been seriously hurt.
“We do a lot of training with our staff, which ends up paying off on these incidents and why they don’t last very long,” he said.
Kelsey said riots are more common in the summer when it’s hot outside. The high temperature recorded in Jamestown on Friday was 104 degrees.
The prison, built in 1965, is the 12th oldest in the state and doesn’t have air conditioning.
The Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury is tasked with inspecting the prison every year and in its latest report stated that inmates complained about the high temperatures in their dorms.
According to the report, the jury reviewed hundreds of pages of temperature logs recorded by prison staff last summer and found that the indoor temperature readings never exceeded 99 degrees.
Kelsey said the prison has tried to lobby the state for funding to install air conditioning at the facility, but each year lawmakers have spent the money on other priorities. However, he doesn’t believe AC would have prevented Friday’s riot because it happened outside on the yard.
“Put a bunch of men in a confined space and tempers can flare because of the heat,” Kelsey said.
The jury also stated that management at the prison “compromised” its inspection by not complying with confidentiality requirements, which included preventing staff from signing an admonishment form and sitting in on interviews with inmates.
Kelsey said he’s consulted with 30 other institutions and “only one has heard of an admonishment form before.”
He also said staff was sitting in on interviews with inmates to protect the safety of the jury members.
“I’ve worked with three previous grand juries, and this is the only one that operated the way they did,” Kelsey said. “We’re doing the right thing at the prison. We have no problem with transparency and complied with everything they needed.”